Remembering the Brunner Mine Disaster
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Posted March 26, 2021
History / Arts / Culture
Brunner Mine Disaster - New Zealand’s deadliest industrial accident happened on this day, March 26, 1896.
125 years ago today, at 9.30 am, a deadly explosion ripped through the Brunner Mine in the West Coast’s Grey Valley killing all 65 men working underground, along with four ponies. The ponies had earlier refused to enter the mine that day and had to be coaxed inside after they ran back to their stables. According to reports the ponies “commenced a wild-eyed snorting and stamping as they were chased towards the gaping mouth of the mine.
Within 90 minutes, every living being underground in the Brunner Mine that day would be dead.”
Noxious gas enveloped the rescuers who risked their own lives to enter the toxic mine and undertake the grim task of recovering the dead to bring them back for their families.
Of the sixty five who died that day, forty were family men leaving grieving widows and a total of 186 dependent children. Others, such as John Roberts (46), William John Roberts (22), Samuel Roberts (18) and David Roberts (15) were father and sons who had been part of the same early shift and yet others such as Joseph and Thomas McIvor (25 & 19 years respectively) were brothers. The oldest miner was 72 and the youngest just 15.
The men who toiled in the dark, dirty and un-safe conditions of the mine to locate and bring out the bodies of their fellow miners had recovered all but one by 2 pm the next day. The body of the last miner, 36 year old Edward Stevens Kent, was finally found under a large rock fall on Tuesday, March 31st.
The funeral procession was estimated to be made up of 6000 people and to stretch for 800 metres.
Fifty three of the miners were buried at the Stillwater Cemetery, thirty-three of them in a single grave.
A disaster relief fund was established to support the families of the deceased miners. Over £32,000 was raised for the fund, equivalent to NZ$6.46 million in December 2020.
Although an official inquiry determined that the cause of the explosion was the detonation of a charge in an area of the mine where no one should have been working, experienced miners claimed that firedamp – methane gas produced by coal – had accumulated because of an ineffectual ventilation system.